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Groundfish fishing boats in New England. (Photo: NOAA)

Dartmouth scientists join EDF on closed areas study

  (UNITED STATES, 8/16/2011)

Scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) are working with researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to jointly develop their knowhow of how closed areas function in terms of fish stock management.

SMAST has chosen to collaborate with EDF despite the latter’s advocacy for the contentious catch share programme now ruling New England’s groundfishery. EDF’s move has convinced many in the sector that its agenda is antagonistic to commercial fishing.

New England groundfish catch. (Photo: NOAA)

But EDF has chosen SMAST due to the university’s reputation for fisheries science in the region, said Johanna Thomas, New England regional director for EDF's Oceans Programme, which is funding the study.

"We think it's the right time to take a new look at closed areas. For example, if there is a way to better design them, or to better account for their benefits in setting catch limits, we want to find that out through this research," she explicated, South Coast Today reports.

The study will ideally conclude how effectively closed areas are functioning, said EDF senior marine scientist Jake Kritzer.

"We're going to be looking at the permanent groundfish closed areas on Georges Bank, the Nantucket Lightship, the Gulf of Maine and Jeffrey's Ledge," he said.

Other closures used to control groundfish mortality, including habitat areas and seasonal closures, will also be explored.

Kritzer will work with SMAST's Steve Cadrin to head the scheme; both already work together on the Science and Statistical Committee, which advises the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC).

The study will mine existing data and, when it identifies gaps, it will run new field research.

"We feel this is a good scientific partnership," Cadrin said. "Some people believe that anything with the EDF stamp on it has a conservation agenda and is anti-fishing while others think that SMAST is a pro-fishing industry researcher.”

"Neither one of those is true," he affirmed.

While SMAST’s research is important to fishers, science is the ultimate objective, Cadrin assured.

The study will look at population biology to determine if closed areas have had a beneficial impact on growth rates, rebuilt a full age structure or reinforced spawning activity within the closed areas, the scientists informed.

Meanwhile, EDF is funding a similar study on the West Coast, Thomas said, but this is still a first for New England.

"We hope this provides an opportunity to work more closely with members of the fishing industry," she said. "When all is said and done, we share goals in common.”

The EDF’s funding will also let project team recruit more partners if necessary and to obtain the resources needed to expand the project, Thomas added.

The team expects to present its initial findings to the councils' planning team by the end of 2011.

By Natalia Real

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